Allan Brown

26 November 2020
Head of Programmes for NATO JEWCS

As part of our commitment to improving inclusion and diversity across our UK business, we speak with, Allan Brown, Head of Programmes for NATO Joint Electronic Warfare Core Staff (JEWCS) about his career at Leonardo and his thoughts on what our company needs to do to further encourage diversity throughout the business.

Tell us about some of the highlights of your career?

I suppose the first was getting employed by the organisation back in 1985, I believe the company took a chance on me then. Back in the 1980s unemployment levels in the UK where extremely high. I had gone to university with the hope of becoming a computer programmer however things did not work out as expected. As a result, I ended up working a series of low skills jobs when I somehow saw an advert for an open day at what was then GEC Avionics in Milton Keynes. I attended their open day and, after a follow up interview, I was offered a job as a Software Technical Assistant. I really appreciated the company taking that chance. Within five years I became a Software Team Leader.

Later I took on a role of a Software Manager within a project when we were based in Stanmore to deliver a programme called EWCP, EW Controlled Processor, to be delivered into the Navy. At the time we took over, the project was going through lots of technical and commercial difficulties, but working as a team we turned it around, and the customer loved us by the end because we delivered what was promised in the time we had agreed.

A more recent highlight was taking on a Programme Manager’s role down in Southampton looking after an area called Special Projects. This delivered a capability directly into the Armed Forces. I loved the work we were doing, and the dedicated team. It was great getting direct feedback from the end-user as well.

The NATO JEWCs programme I now lead is also really exciting delivering electronic warfare training capability across the air, land and maritime domain for all the NATO nations.

What about challenges you’ve faced during your career?

When I first started, it was a case of finding role models to aspire to, which I did. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anybody of colour there, but I didn’t see that as an issue at the time. I challenged myself to be that role model for people like myself to aspire to.

It’s not so much a challenge now but in those days, there were many references to me ‘having a chip on my shoulder’. They were probably correct, because I believe I had to work harder than others to progress, so it was probably perceived as a chip, but I was just going the extra mile to get noticed. Later on, the challenge was a perception of fairness in the organisation. Not just for people of colour but for any diverse group. At times I didn’t, and don’t believe that organisations adopt a fair and equitable process towards all people.

Thank you for being so open. What further changes would you like to see going forward?

It’s not really changes, more about our thought processes. Starting with recruitment: do graduates see people of colour within the organisation that they can aspire to? Do we have an appropriate presence at graduate events to attract people of colour? I’d say that it’s probably limited. Are we doing the right thing to get the balance within the organisation correct? Are we subconsciously biased within the processes we have within recruitment and selections? I don’t know but I think people employ, and like, people that are like themselves. It’s ingrained within the soul unfortunately. We are working to improve the process of being more inclusive but I’d say there are more questions than answers at this time.

Awareness campaigns such as Black History Month look to not only acknowledge past injustices but also to consider, what can be done in future to encourage change. What are your thoughts around this?

Well personally, I don’t agree with Black History Month. To focus it in one month is just be playing at what we should be living. When it’s part of our daily routine, that’s where I’d like us to go. It should be there all the time, the recognition from a black/diverse perspective. For example, I was disappointed that we didn’t do more as a company to echo the Black Lives Matter message earlier this year. I saw it as an opportunity to accelerate the work of the Inclusion and Diversity team.

Personally I believe we need to have a balance within the organisation, of all diverse groups. I know there’s been a lot of work for balance from a gender perspective – what I would look for now, is the same impetus for the whole spectrum of diversity.

It’s about creating an environment where people of colour feel able to address issues that concern them. From my experience, it’s not been something people want to raise within the organisation, because you might be seen as a “trouble maker”.

I believe our business still has some way to go. However, I hope that with the work we are now doing, we can create an even better environment where people of colour can be truly open about their concerns and perceptions within the organisation. It will take time and commitment from everyone in the company, but when we get to that stage, we will be in a better position.